1. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your thought process in constructing sentences

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ben414, Jul 6, 2015.

    I'm a dreadfully slow writer, and the biggest culprit is my inability to quickly construct sentences effectively. I know what I want to convey, but I struggle to quickly find the right sentence structure.

    For example, I recently wrote: "His eyes were red and swollen." I also wanted to write that his stare was empty, but I struggled to find a good way to add it on. I tried: "His eyes were red and swollen, his stare empty"; "His eyes were red and swollen, and his stare was empty"; and "His eyes were red and swollen. His stare was empty." Too many minutes later, I finally found a sentence structure I liked: "His red and swollen eyes formed an empty stare."

    How do you go about deciding how to structure your sentences? Does it occur naturally for you? If not, do you have any set techniques for finding the right structure? If you're someone who would skip it and come back to it later, how would you work on it then?
     
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    First draft, I just write it as it comes out. The next day, I review what I wrote the day before and catch the big glitches, and then the little stuff I try to catch later on in editing.

    I'm not one of those "your first draft is always garbage" people, but I do believe your first draft is always a first draft. Get down the general idea, polish as it occurs to you, and focus on the big picture. That's my motto! (for right now)
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think about my sentences when I first draft them. I need at least a paragraph before and after the paragraph containing the sentence, often quite a bit more, before it makes any sense for me to tweak any of it. So I wouldn't pause over this puzzle for more than a moment; I would first-draft it as

    "His eyes were red and swollen. His stare was empty."

    and I would know that later I would return to it. At that "later" I might realize that the empty stare belongs somewhere else. I might realize that there are too many short little sentences next to those short little sentences so that I need to make it longer. I might conclude that the short sentences are just right after some long baroque sentence that comes before it. I might decide that I have too many adjectives, so that I want to lose either "red" or "swollen". In other words, many of my decisions are based on the decisions nearby.

    Both halves of that two-step process--the first draft, and then the tweaking--do tend to feel that they come fairly naturally. I don't sit there and say, "Too many adjectives, too many adjectives, what to do..." Instead, I just ruthlessly kill "red" without being all that conscious as to why.
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I guess it comes to me fairly naturally. When I come across a sentence that doesn't want to sound right, I'll look at the surrounding sentences and think about how they're structured, see if maybe I can rearrange the information between them in a more pleasing way. I always try to think of the flow within the paragraph - no too many short, terse sentences, and not too many long, complex ones either. If you example was in a paragraph with too many short sentences I'd definitely try to combine some of them, but if it's standing alone or coming between longer sentences, I'd probably leave it as is - either two short ones or one something like "His eyes were red and swollen, his stare empty".

    When I was in school the creative writing class I took would require that each essay had various types of sentences - for instance one starting with "[adjective] and [adjective], the ..." and one starting with "[adverb]ly, ..." - and though I hated it at the time and it was very rudimentary, it did sort of lay this groundwork for thinking about different structures. I'll try to plug the words I've got into various sort of mental 'templates', if that makes any sense, and see what sounds best, how I can modify

    It's not always going to be a quick process. Sometimes I just get bored or tired of messing with it and highlight it to come back later to try some more of the same.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My son tells me, don't worry, this is normal. And he's really smart, much smarter than me, or at least his knowledge is more up-to-date than mine.

    There are two different processes going on if your brain is like mine.

    First process, get the story down.

    Second process, apply learned writing skills to the story.

    Once I realized that was OK, it didn't mean I couldn't write, I came to believe I actually was a writer. It's a slow slog, but I'm excited about where it's going.
     
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  6. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    It comes mostly natural to me.

    After the first draft I go back and reread what I wrote and look at how my sentences surrounding it look. If it's a lot of short snappy sentences, then I go long or if it's a bunch of long verbose sentences I opt for short and snappy.

    Unfortunately, I tend to gravitate towards longer sentences so I force myself to go and write out a short sentence. If I were writing something, I'd probably go for your final sentence, and then eventually edit it to your first draft sentence - just to mix up how I usually write.
     
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  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    For some reason I end up making my sentences follow a rhythm. If they don't read with a particular beat, I don't like them. I often add words just to keep the flow, even though the word isn't required.
     
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  8. thatoneauthor
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    thatoneauthor Member

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    I don't think red and swollen eyes could form an empty stare in the first place. It'd form an irritated stare, or an uncomfortable glimpse, or a scratchy feeling.

    My advice to you is to take out a notebook and one of your favorite novels, and take notes on every single word and why it's there.

    It helped me a lot.

    What I've noticed is sentences should be clean and neat as possible. They should make sense logically. It should have a flow and rhythm. And every single word used has a reason for being there.

    If it has no reason to be there, then simply omit it.

    Definitely not a sentence like,

    "His eyes were red and swollen, and his stare was empty."

    Too many words.

    How bout something in the realm of-

    His eyes were beaten black and blue, giving an empty stare, like he lost hope.

    (I described the character enough for the reader to get a good enough image. Anything more is too much. Anything less is not enough.)

    Now if it's the m.c seeing this man, the next sentence should be about what the m.c is thinking. Or dialog. No more description is needed.

    m.c could say something like.

    I pitied him. Poor sap looked like someone stole his ice-cream. Maybe I could find some way to help out, other wise I think I'll need a drink.

    (We got our m.c thought on it, his goals, a funny line to make him likable, and the offering of help to make him a good person. We also got a little conflict because we don't know why the guy looked like that.)

    Or.

    "You okay there, buddy?"

    Stephen King once said, "Second draft is first, minus ten percent."

    If you're having trouble visualizing the scene, try being the m.c!

    What are his thoughts? His feelings? His goals? His fears? His mistakes? His memories? His passion? What he's good at? What he sucks at?

    What do other authors do?

    Let me know what you think!

    Thanks.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think this boils down to that old argument. Do you craft each sentence to perfection and then move on—understanding that your perfect word/sentence choices might all need to be cut if the scene itself needs changing later on? Or do you get the general gist of the sentence down, move on, finish the story then go back and cut and polish to perfection then?

    Of course you need to take into account what others have said here, that a lot of what you cut or encourage is dependent on surrounding words and sentences. It doesn't matter if you're a write-perfect-now, or polish-later person, this principle applies.

    Different methods work for different people.

    One thing I've noticed is that when I went back to polish my very rough first drafts, taking into account 'too many adjectives/adverbs,' innacurate word choice, lumpish sentence structure, too many long sentences, too many short ones ...and so forth ...this editing exercise improved my writing skills for next time. Next time I wrote I automatically chose fewer adjectives, and automatically didn't make the same mistakes the first time I wrote. The next 'first draft' didn't require quite so much of this kind of editing.

    In a way that can become a problem in itself. If you learn to write skillful first drafts, you MIGHT miss a certain degree of spontanaiety in how you express yourself. I'm finding my own writing feels flatter to me, now that I've eliminated many of my newbie problems. The joy of writing the thing isn't quite coming through, somehow. Maybe I need an uncorralled, unselfconscious outpouring of words and ideas, in order to achieve the flavour I want.

    In some ways, it's easier to edit later, especially if you're an over-writer like me. You give yourself a lot more to work with.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2015
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  10. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I do not know how I construct or structure sentences. It's a subconscious process, sorry, and not something I have ever contemplated.
    Sometimes I return to something I have written previously and have not the faintest clue how I wrote it.
     
  11. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Eyes, red, swollen, empty, stare.

    In each of your attempts at getting the sentence to flow as you want it, you've almost stuck to the same pattern. It's worth dropping some (or all) adjectives, trying different ones, and rearranging matters e.g.

    Swollen/battered/bruised/whatever eyes couldn't mask a hollow and empty stare;
    The empty stare of defeat was evident behind swollen eyes;
    Hollow blackness behind swollen lids served as a warning of...

    I've left out the word red to keep the reader's imagination kindled - almost axiomatic.

    And don't worry about constructing anything quickly: speed in note taking is simply to get stuff down before you forget. Quality needs to take its time. If you're slow (or think you're slower than average), so what? Nobody knows unless you tell them, and what does it really matter? Speed is likely to come with practice. Just write.
     
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  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    For what it's worth, I've preferred the original sentence to any of the suggested alternatives, so there's also the question of knowing when to stop editing and just be satisfied with what you've got!
     
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  13. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I tend to write the first thing in my head. Then delete it and write the second thing. The structure sort of comes naturally. Then I read it back and either love it or hate it. Then I rewrite it again. Then I just remove it altogether. Oh god it's harder than I thought. Then I add my original sentence back in.
     
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  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    How I write a particular sentence depends on the sentences around it. I could take several beautiful sentences and string them together, but that may actually weaken the passage. Sometimes a simple sentence (such as "His eyes were red and swollen.") suddenly becomes beautiful when you look at the larger passage it's a part of. So it all depends on context. Learn to look at the bigger picture instead of individual sentences.
     
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  15. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    I just learned a new word... That is why I love this forum!
     
  16. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Sentence structure is my Achilles heal as well, but people who work the way you and I do, @Ben414, tend to have less of a hard time on the second draft. I'm trying to train myself to be less critical of my own work, though, so I can just get something, anything, finished.

    As for sentence structure itself, it should be based purely on what you're trying to convey and how it suits the story. If I want intensity, I'd go for the period. If I was going for basic description, I'd use the comma. For scenic grandeur, I'd use something more elegant like, 'His red and swollen eyes formed an empty stare.' And so on.

    On a final note, I wouldn't consider this 'difficulty' as a problem, because not only does it save us time in the long run, but it also says something about the writers attention to detail. I believe, over time, the writer's mentality would adapt so that it becomes easier to construct desired sentences without much scrutiny. But one must always remember that it's a first draft and can always be changed.

    :supershock:
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not saying that what you describe isn't true of you and possibly Ben, but I wanted to note that Ben's description of his first draft sounds like more struggle than my first plus second draft. For me, putting extra effort, at the sentence level, into the first draft, wouldn't save me any of the second-draft effort. Extra effort in the first draft at the PLOT level, if I were capable of it, would save me some second-draft effort; I don't do that anyway because it just stalls me dead. But extra effort at the sentence level would genuinely be a complete waste of time for me.

    Edited to clarify: I'm not saying that I finish an entire long work before I edit, and in fact I'm inconsistent above when I refer to first and second drafts for sentences versus plot, so I shouldn't have included the plot remark, but now it's there, so I'll just cross it out.

    Anyway. "first draft" and "second draft" in the sense of sentences refers to the fact that I don't edit as I write a sentence (first draft); I edit a chunk of, at a minimum, several paragraphs (second draft, or editing phase, or whatever you want to call it.)
     
  18. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    The way I see it, anything that's corrected in the first draft means less work in the second draft, but I know what you mean. It would depend on how happy the writer is with the various aspects of their first draft. Some people might think, hey, my sentence structure is pretty decent, after a few minor fixes, but find their plot is buckled. Personally, I like to plan the shit out of my plot, using a 'cause and effect' approach to iron out, or at least minimise, any wrinkles.

    But each to their own. Everyone has their own styles, methods, and so on.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Naturally, I guess... for me. I don't always like what I've written when I give it a second pass. Sometimes I try too hard to not tell, but instead show and then there's too much show, like a piece of cake that's all frosting and no cake. I mean, for some people a plate-full of frosting is better than sex, but... not for everyone. As @thirdwind mentioned earlier. It depends a lot on what's going on around the item in question. Sometimes things are fine as they are, other times they want to be tweaked.
     
  20. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    You know, I used to love the icing on home made Christmas cake and found the actual cake part to be bland, but as I got older, I began to prefer the actual cake part more.

    :supergrin:
     
  21. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm usually thinking in setting images, facial expressions, what the MC sees, or feelings/thoughts the MC has, but in a shabby way. So my thought process is often like yours in that it's rough at first. "The forest was dim and dark." Trying to show what the MC sees when looking at the forest. Then I go back and ask a) is that necessary at all and b) are there better ways to say that?
     
  22. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    My God, what do his first drafts look like if he really takes that advice!
    lol

    To the op.
    Depends - sometimes I can get into a character or a story and I'm not really conscious of my structure. That said though, I am driven to create a kindof jarring rhythm. Sometimes that comes about naturally sometimes it doesn't happen until I can get a handle on the tone or story. Just a few days ago I was started Chapter 1 on my novel. I rewrote the first few sentences a few times and hated them. They got the point across but damn, they were dull. Instead of driving myself nuts rewriting I decided to finish the scene. Dull sentences and all. I had a few pages and after reading them panicked - maybe I'd chosen a crappy mc, maybe the third person pov wasn't working. I considered changing mc's and switching tenses. But I knew that really wouldn't work and it would be a waste of time to try.

    I stared and read those pages over and over beginning to see what I was really going for. I began to layer and changed the sentences to bring out a wry stumpy tone. The more I worked the easier it was to create the next sentences - I'd found my groove for this story.
    I try to be really conscious of character. Not to be too omnipresent but firmly present in my mc's shoes. As long as it's always his story to tell with his impressions it's easier to structure a sentence based on how he'd think of it.
     
  23. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you all for your thought out responses. I think the best thing for me to do now is to try out several writing techniques and see which works best for me. This thread should be a big help. :agreed:
     
  24. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    For a first draft, I don't think about it very hard. I just get down whatever needs to be in there to describe the scene. I do find that closing my eyes and visualizing what's going on helps a lot.
    I re-visualize or even rethink the scene. By this point, I'm also concerned about sentence variation, too so that plays a big part in how things get rewritten. For instance, I don't want every sentence to start with "he" or "she" if I'm describing the actions of a character.

    Hope that helps a bit.
     
  25. RevGeo
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    RevGeo Member

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    You find it difficult to construct sentences?
    There is a support group for that - its called EVERYBODY! They meet at the bar.
     

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